Apple takes important first step to become a sports channel

New blow to historic televisions whose sport remained one of the last square pastures. Following in Amazon’s footsteps for its Prime Video service, Apple is now showing its intention to turn its Apple TV+ streaming service into a major player in audiovisual sports rights.

The company led by Tim Cook has signed a 10-year contract with American Major League Soccer (MLS) to broadcast all of its matches. The amount of the transaction was not disclosed, but according to the American press, it would be at least $2.5 billion, or $250 million per year. If certain income thresholds are crossed, the MLS and Apple share the excess profit.

“Huge deal”

Of course, soccer—that is, European-style soccer—in the United States does not have the same audience as American football or baseball. But the ambitious deal signed between the two camps gives a glimpse of Apple TV+’s intentions in sports, analysts say. “It’s a huge deal,” Rich Greenfield, a renowned industry analyst, told Bloomberg TV.

In March, Apple announced a deal to broadcast two Major League Baseball games on Fridays in several countries, including the United States. This time, the alliance goes much further. MLS will become the first federation to offer all of its matches on a streaming platform, although matches will be co-broadcast by traditional live television players. A large part even according to “The Athletic”, explaining that agreements are expected with the current MLS broadcasters: ESPN (Disney group), Fox and Univision. But until now, a large proportion of a sport’s exclusive gatherings have always gone to traditional pay TV, and the extra prizes have been sold to platforms.

All agreements on one platform

To access the matches on the MLS web channel, you need to download the free Apple TV application on your smartphone or television. Some of the games are free, but the most important — and the most interesting — are available with an Apple TV+ subscription, which costs $4.99 per month. Another novelty, this transaction gives Apple the world rights to American football, while the leagues have until now preferred to value them better by selling them by country.

In Europe, and especially in France, this new foray by Apple is likely to give thought not only to Amazon, which has become the main broadcaster of the Ligue 1 of the French Championship and the broadcaster of Roland Garros for evening games, but also Canal + . Just like, of course, all sports associations that are concerned with valuing their rights as best as possible. One auction in particular is on everyone’s mind: that of the new European Football Champions League. It has just been launched by UEFA. Canal+ currently holds the rights in France.

Apple interested in the Champions League?

A much more difficult economic environment, mainly due to a rise in inflation affecting consumers, and a rise in interest rates, which degrade the valuations of tech and media companies, have forced players to stream more tightly. In order to acquire and, perhaps above all, retain their subscribers, they multiply the purchases of rights outside series and films: towards reality TV and streaming shows or sports.

The advantage of Amazon and Apple is that they don’t have as direct pressure as Netflix or Disney+ on the profitability of their video business, because it is part of a wider offering. Launched in 2019, Apple TV+ has had a niche strategy so far, especially compared to Netflix, which aims for maximum catalog depth.

Apple’s streaming service, which reportedly earns $2.2 billion in annual revenue according to a Bernstein analyst quoted by the “Wall Street Journal,” played high-end with carefully curated content such as the movie “CODA,” which gave him the first Oscar for best picture for a platform, the movie “On the rocks” by Sofia Coppola or the series “Morning Show” or “Ted Lasso”. The development of Apple TV+ is seen by analysts as a way to convince owners of Apple devices such as iPhones not to switch brands. Even if iPhone owners now have “only” three months of Apple TV+ free, instead of a week for others.